Bransfield dedicates outreach program

ELIZABETH – Catholic Charities West Virginia’s new program to bring food assistance to isolated areas was dedicated Thursday.

The Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, dedicated and blessed the Mobile Outreach and WellnessWorks Food Pantry at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Mission in Elizabeth.

Patricia Phillips, director of development and marketing for Catholic Charities of West Virginia, said the new outreach will serve communities in a six-county region designated as a “food desert” by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Bransfield dedicated the new vehicle in a brief outdoor service. Bransfield said the vehicle is the first of its kind in the diocese.

“Catholic Charities did the work on this,” he said. “We had help from the Knights of Columbus food drive in Parkersburg and other grants. The biggest expense was for the van; that is a very expensive part of the program. We will have more grants and more support from the public.”

Phillips said the van will visit locations once or twice a month and leave clients with a five-day supply of healthy food they would not otherwise be able to obtain.

“This van will visit communities in Wirt, Calhoun, Ritchie, Roane, Doddridge and Gilmer counties,” she said. “We are happy the congregation of St. Elizabeth of Hungary stepped up to work with this. They will provide a place to store the food and park the van.”

Phillips said the van will be used for more than distributing food.

“The inside of the van is set up with a seating area so we can offer education on healthy foods and it also has a Wi-Fi connection,” she said. “We will also use this for the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) next year.”

Mark Stilner-Hays, executive director of Catholic Charities of West Virginia, said the Mobile Outreach Program has been funded with grants from the Wal-Mart Foundation and the Congregation of St. Joseph’s Generous Promise Grant Fund. Catholic Charities West Virginia is a subgrantee of Catholic Charities USA’s grant for hunger relief.

Stilner-Hays said prior to setting up the program they visited similar programs in Long Island, N.Y., and Texas. He said the distributions will not be in towns in the six counties but in the more rural and isolated areas.

“We are aware of the need and the areas that have been classified as ‘food deserts’ by the government,” he said. “This will allow us to bring healthy food assistance to the area and also help with referrals for other assistance.”

Stilner-Hays said additional mobile programs could be set up in the future, but there are no immediate plans.

Supervising the project will be June Freeland, coordinator of the program for Catholic Charities. Freeland said her duties include driving the van in its travels across the region and coordinating volunteers to help.

“We have been out in the community and got positive feedback. We have done a distribution in Wirt County and I have three volunteers,” she said. “We are in need of volunteers in the other counties.”

Freeland said the stop at Spring Valley in Wirt County has been set for the third Wednesday of each month.

Anyone in Calhoun, Ritchie, Roane, Doddridge and Gilmer counties who would like to volunteer should contact Freeland at 304-989-4511 or by email at jfreeland@ccwva.org.